The Colorado band with a distinctive sound and strong Michigan following plays Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo this week. Check out the Local Spins interview with mandolinist Drew Emmitt.
THE BAND: Leftover Salmon
THE MUSIC: Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, aka Americana cajun/zydeco newgrass
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 16 at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe. Kind Country opens the show. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $30/35 at bellsbeer.com
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Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass.
Go ahead, google the genre. You won’t need much time sifting through your search results. Guaranteed as unique as the genre, will be the only band you’re going to come across.
Fresh off performances at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre and a headlining slot at Aiken Bluegrass Festival in South Carolina, Colorado’s Leftover Salmon will turn the wheels of its tour bus to Kalamazoo this week, where the six-piece, good-time band will hit the stage at Bell’s Brewery Wednesday night for the first of two Michigan gigs over the next three months.
Local Spins’ Ryan Boldrey had a chance recently to catch up with one of the band’s two founding members still in the mix, mandolin player and primary songwriter Drew Emmitt, and talk about Leftover’s evolution as a band, its ties to Michigan and more.
Local Spins: You guys just put out a new record, Something Higher, on May 4. Can you talk a little bit about how this album differentiates from those you have done in the past?
Drew Emmitt: It’s pretty different for us. I think that instead of thinking in terms of the usual Leftover Salmon record, we all really thought about writing songs that were meaningful and I think everybody really accomplished that, plus the whole band contributed which was really a little bit different. Our drummer Alwyn (Robinson) has a song in there that he sings, and our bass player (Greg Garrison) has three tunes, a couple that he collaborated with (founding member and guitarist) Vince (Herman) on and the title track that I came up with, Vince helped me finish which was different. That’s actually the first song Vince and I have collaborated on.
Local Spins: You guys have been together for close to 30 years as a band and recorded nine studio albums, and that’s the first time that you and Vince have ever collaborated on a song?
Drew Emmitt: We’ve always kind of intended to, it’s just never really happened until now. I brought the song into the first album rehearsal and I thought, ‘you know it’d be cool to have Vince help me finish this and he did a really great job.’ I feel like our lyrics really complemented each other, so it’s cool that it happened. It’s the first time for that and I think it’s pretty significant that it became the title cut and the first single.
Local Spins: You talk about the record being a different and more meaningful one. There’s songs inspired by travel (including a mention of “Sand Dunes up in Michigan”), questioning modern needs and our current political climate here in America. As the band prepares to hit that 30-year anniversary next year, what should fans expect from Leftover in the next 10 years?
Drew Emmitt: You just never know in this business, but I have a good feeling about this year. Good things are happening, ya know the Red Rocks date, our first time headlining there, going back to Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I just feel like things are kind of building right now. I think this new record could be something that really helps us. For the first time in several years, we are actually on AAA radio, and we are on the Billboard AAA and Americana charts. That’s exciting, of course, but to me it’s an indicator, that ‘oh maybe this album could get some wider appeal and some good airplay,’ so I don’t know. I feel this album is a turning point for us and the band right now is just playing better than it has ever played, everybody is just way into it. It’s a lot of fun.
Local Spins: Speaking of Red Rocks, you guys just kicked off your latest tour co-headlining there with (Grateful Dead bassist) Phil Lesh. Getting to play gigs in front of 9,500 people like that and then coming to Kalamazoo to play a more intimate room with a capacity of 420, what is that like for you guys?
Drew Emmitt: I love it all. You definitely play differently depending on the gig though. A Red Rocks gig you are really putting as big and powerful of a show together as you can, and it’s fun, obviously, to play in front of a really big crowd. For a smaller gig you are still obviously trying to put together a powerful show but I think there is room for more of a looseness or a spontaneity especially with this band. We tend to maybe do a little more crazier stuff, and it’s a lot of fun to play in front of a smaller, jampacked, rowdy crowd. Sometimes the smaller gigs are the ones that have the most energy.
Local Spins: A couple years ago when you opened for Greensky Bluegrass at Red Rocks, I was fortunate enough to be doing some work behind the scenes with Greensky, and they were truly humbled by the fact you guys were opening for them at their first headlining gig there as Leftover is a band that blazed the trail for them and other newgrass bands out there. As you watch this scene continue to evolve, how cool is it to see bands like Greensky, The Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, The Lil’ Smokies and so on, tip their hats to Salmon as true pioneers for this genre?
Drew Emmitt: It’s an honor, and inspiring for us to see that we’ve inspired a bit of a movement in the jamgrass scene and inspired bands that are making a name for themselves, but we just feel we’re a link in the chain and following in the footsteps of bands like Hot Rize, Newgrass Revival and Little Feet, bands that really affected us and inspired us to do what we’re doing.
Local Spins: Speaking of Greensky, you’re not only playing their hometown in a couple days, but you’ll also be headlining a festival this summer (Hoxeyville) that has been synonymous with them over the years. What’s your level of excitement to be playing Michigan twice in a few short months and do you have any other connections to the Great Lakes State that may surprise some people?
Drew Emmitt: It’s always fun to mix it up with the Greensky boys whenever they are around and definitely cool to be coming to their town and be part of that scene and what’s happening up there. My Nugget Mandolin was actually made there in Central Lake by Mike Kemnitzer. It’d be really great to see him while I am there. He just got done building one for (Greensky’s) Paul Hoffman. Paul got one of the last ones, and I think I might have had something to do with inspiring him to play Nuggets so that is kind of cool. Michigan is a really great place, and I think similar to Colorado in a lot of ways. We’re psyched to be playing there twice in the next couple months.
VIDEO: Leftover Salmon, “Southern Belle”
VIDEO: Leftover Salmon, “Echo Sessions”
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